EDITORIAL: Funding transit a conundrum

Who should be made to pay for transit system expansion in Greater Victoria?

The Victoria Regional Transit Commission recently heard its 2013 request to add two cents per litre more to local fuel prices this year, to help cover transit service expansion, had been turned down by the province.

Transportation Minister Todd Stone let the commission know the request will be reconsidered for 2016, but it brings up a question: who should be paying more to help transit expand in this region; bus riders, gasoline buyers, or just plain everyone?

While two cents a litre isn’t a major hardship for drivers – after all, gas prices leapt 18 to 20 cents per litre in the past week or so – the gas tax is a hammer-on-the-head strategy penalizing drivers who may or may not choose to use transit in future.

Raising transit fares again to raise the needed revenue, rather than taxing drivers more, is a tactic the commission has little appetite for, knowing that many of its regular bus riders are strapped enough for cash.

For years, B.C. Transit has done its best to get more people riding the bus, here and in other urban areas of the province. In the big picture it’s the right thing to do: reduce gridlock and do less harm to the environment. But in reality, not enough people who could easily ride the bus more have committed to driving less as a way to help achieve those lofty goals.

Over time, our dependence on our vehicles has led to regular traffic logjams on both major arteries into downtown Victoria.

True, that problem is partly attributable to how Greater Victoria has developed. But when the option to take transit is there – a more user-friendly option from one year to the next – and drivers still don’t leave their vehicles at home, it’s a sign that the people in charge of the bus system still haven’t done a good enough job selling people on why taking the bus is a better choice.

It’s kind of a Catch-22: many people won’t use the system until it’s better, but more people need to use the system to allow and pay for expanded service – unless of course, those other sources of revenue are tapped.

The local politicians who make up the transit commission should ask for a public referendum on whether people are willing to pay more, either through taxes or fares, for expanded service.

If the majority say no, commission members need to grit their teeth and direct B.C. Transit to stop expanding service until such time that more people choose to ride the bus.